‘The Grinch’ is surprisingly entertaining

The Art of Nerding Out

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Illumination is not a name that is synonymous with quality. The animation studio has provided a lot for “meh” cinema over the years, from the “Despicable Me” sequels to “Sing” to “The Secret Lives of Pets.” These movies may not be awful, but they lack inspiration and creativity and usually wind being just fine but not quite good.

Illumination’s latest offering, “The Grinch,” is no masterpiece, but it manages to tell an entertaining story while avoiding some of the flaws that sink other Illumination movies.

“The Grinch” is an update on the classic Dr. Seuss Christmas tale. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the title character, this movie chronicles the Grinch’s attempt to steal Christmas from the town of Whoville. The movie covers Grinch’s prep and scheming for the mission, while as detailing Cindy Lou Who (Cameron Seely) and her gang’s plan to trap Santa Claus so she can have a chat with him.

While this is still the classic “Grinch” tale, it has a few new side plots to stretch the runtime. Grinch gets a tragic backstory, while Cindy Lou Who is part of a single-parent household. Grinch’s dog, Max, has transformed from the put-upon partner in crime he was in the original story to a faithful pet who adores his master. Maybe that choice was foreshadowing for Grinch’s transformation at the movie’s climax. Because if Grinch’s dog loves him, how bad can he really be?

While some of the new scenes feel like unnecessary padding, some of them work pretty well. The stuff between Cindy Lou and her mother (Rashida Jones) is touching. There a side plot where Grinch and Max hunt reindeer which is pretty funny. And the early scenes detailing the Grinch’s relationship with the Whos works. I love Christmas, but if I lived near this version of Whoville, I might hate it, too.

Cumberbatch is a hoot as Grinch, his voice seething with contempt and dark wit. His performance is the linchpin of the entire movie, and his delivery of the dialogue makes this movie about 30 percent better than it would’ve been without him. The rest of the cast is effective, with Kenan Thompson really standing out as Mr. Bricklebaum.

Visually, “The Grinch” looks beautiful. Vistas of cold, misty mountains feel majestic in a way similar shots fail to feel in other animated movies. The movie spends a lot of time showing us interesting, fun gadgets and gear, from Grinch’s coffee maker to gear he uses in his raid. On the whole, the film’s look is an appealing mix of beauty and whimsy.

“The Grinch” sits in the middle of the numerous adaptations of Seuss’s book. It’s a little bloated and not quite as fun as the original cartoon, but it’s also light years better than the live-action dumpster fire starring Jim Carrey.

Illumination doesn’t have a great track record, but this “Grinch” is funny, visually engrossing, and tugs at the heartstrings just enough to be worth a watch.

3 Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG